In pictures: Empowered & financially independent Koli fisherwomen of Mumbai

In pictures: Empowered & financially independent Koli fisherwomen of Mumbai

n pictures: Mumbai’s empowered & independent Koli fisherwomen agri koli 30 stades

The oldest inhabitants of India’s financial capital Mumbai are members of a community that gives its women rights and privileges at par with men. The equality, empowerment and financial independence of Koli women reflects in their personalities – the confidence in their speech, the gold jewellery and flowers in hair and their bargaining skills while negotiating fish sale with a haggling customer.

Kolis are a fishing community and believed to be the original inhabitants of Mumbai, living here since the 12th century.

José Gerson da Cunha, whose book ‘Origin of Mumbai’ was published in the year 1900, describes the Maximum City as ‘the desolate islet of the Mumbai Koli fishermen’.

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A thousand years later, the Koli community remains an integral part of Mumbai’s cosmopolitan culture. The men go fishing and women sell the catch in the fish market, signifying equal division of labour.

A Koli woman, also called Kolin, is the source of economic stability for her family. Her day starts early with procuring fishes from the sea shore. She then heads to the market where she interacts as freely with men as with women.

A Koli woman’s kurga (daily earnings) give her financial independence, which ensures that she also gets equal participation in decision-making in all family matters.

Until about a decade back, Koli women would invest their earnings into buying gold ornaments as a means of saving money. Now, most have opened bank accounts but a Kolin can even today be identified from a distance by the big bindi on her forehead, green bangles and chunky gold jewellery.

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The nine-yard saree draped in Kaashtha style (tucked at the back) has, however, made way for the regular saree but hasn’t diminished the independence of women in a community where the birth of girls is celebrated as much as the birth of boys.

The women procure, sort, grade and sell fishes across markets in Mumbai. The fish selling license is passed on from mother to daughter or mother-in-law to daughter-in-law like a heirloom.

In pictures here, the women of Koli community:

While Koli men conquer the seas, women have the last word in fish markets. Pic: Flickr
While Koli men conquer the seas, women have the last word in the fish markets. Pic: Flickr
The Koli community practices equal division of labour. Pic: Flickr
The Koli community practices equal division of labour. Pic: Flickr

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Koli women with fishes at a Mumbai fish market. Pic: Flcikr
Koli women with fishes at a Mumbai fish market. Pic: Flcikr
Bindi, chunky gold jewellery and green bangles are an integral part of Koli women's attire. Pic: Flickr
Bindi, chunky gold jewellery and green bangles are an integral part of Koli women’s attire. Pic: Flickr

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Koli women tie hair neatly in a bun, usually decorated with flowers, as they go about business. Pic: Flickr
Koli women tie hair neatly in a bun, usually decorated with flowers, as they go about business. Pic: Flickr
Sorting fish before customers start walking in. Pic: Flickr
Sorting fish before customers start walking in. Pic: Flickr

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Grading fish at the Versova fish market. Pic: Flickr
Grading fish at the Versova fish market. Pic: Flickr
Koli women's selling skills remain unmatched and MBAs can take a lesson or two from them in profitable selling. Pic: Flickr
Koli women’s selling skills remain unmatched and MBAs can take a lesson or two from them in profitable selling. Pic: Flickr

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Koli women celebrating Holi in Mumbai. It is famous as Koli Holi in Mumbai. Pic: Flickr
Koli women celebrating Holi in Mumbai. It is famous as Koli Holi in Mumbai. Pic: Flickr
Narali Puran or Nariyal Purnima is an important day when coconut is offered to the sea before commencing fishing. Pic: Flickr
Narali Puran or Nariyal Purnima is an important day when coconut is offered to the sea before commencing fishing. Pic: Flickr

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A Koli couple offering coconut to the sea on Narial Poornima. Pic: Flickr
A Koli couple offering coconut to the sea on Narial Poornima. Pic: Flickr
Koli women at the Versova Sea Food Festival, which draws huge crowds every year. Pic: Flickr
Koli women at the Versova Sea Food Festival, which draws huge crowds every year. Pic: Flickr

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